Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

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5 Reasons Why Studying Abroad Makes You A Better Person

  1. You Forge Local Relationships

Oh, María. That’s how I start many of my stories about my Spanish host mother. María was the best. She was a chubby, 68, year-old Salamanca native who had hosted students for 30 years, and made my study abroad experience 100 times better. We would huddle around my computer to watch Barcelona soccer matches, she would cook me paella every Sunday, and we would spend dinnertime joking around, watching terrible Spanish television, and talking about our days. When I would come home for a midnight snack, which was more like a 5-6am snack, María started calling me “The Ghost” and asking if “The Ghost” had visited the night before to raid our refrigerator.

Something wonderful about study abroad is that you have time to develop local relationships, whether they’re with your host family, roommate/flat-mate, or other students. No person I met on a weekend or week-long trip has ever impacted me as much as María did with her kindness and fun home atmosphere. She taught me to be more blunt and reinforced me to shamelessly laugh at myself, whenever possible.

  1. Find Local Gems

Let’s just say Trip Advisor only goes so far. Yes, it will give you the best restaurants, destinations, etc., but sometimes you don’t want the “best” experience, you want a genuine one. My favorite spots in Salamanca were the ones I made my own, like the coffee shop I would go to after class to chat with Beatriz, who would give my friend Ian and I advice, or the Erasmus Bar where my team and I would play trivia every Wednesday (we won thrice, I might add). None of those places would make a website because they were unspectacular at face value, until you made a memory in them.

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through

  1. You live outside your comfort zone

Some say that growth comes from discomfort, which I agree with 100%. Growing as a person means exposing yourself to new experiences, feelings, and situations that lie outside of the status quo. The wonderful thing about study abroad is that you are uncomfortable all the time, so by default you’re growing all the time. Whether you’re navigating a new country in a new language, battling your way through classes, meeting new people, missing old people, or finding your niche in your new home, study abroad is difficult at times, and it SHOULD BE. If everything has a shiny exterior and you never come across a meaningful challenge, you miss the depth that leads to growth. There was one weekend, pretty early into my study abroad experience, where the eight people I knew were out of town, and I almost went Jack Nicholson-style The Shining on everyone due to cabin fever. That experience prompted me to be more proactive, but also helped me learn how to be alone and made me a better person.

  1. You learn street smarts AND book smarts

First of all, when you’re studying abroad, you’re ideally doing some studying. Wow, novel concept here, I know.

While I was in Spain, I took Portuguese classes, a class on the history of the Jews in Spain, a class on Spanish literature, and the History of Philosophy, of which I learned a lot, to the point where I still have trouble calling philosophers by their English names. Aristotle or Aristoteles? I don’t know either…

But, moreover, you also learn street smarts. You learn the skills necessary to navigate uncomfortable situations (cough, exactly what I mentioned in the last reason, cough). I had my passport stolen my first night in Morocco, which makes most problems a cakewalk when I face them now. At least I’m not in a foreign country and speak none of the national languages desperately trying to find a way home…

  1. You have the opportunity to travel and live in the world.

Now, in case you were worried, I’m not advocating for a study abroad trip with no travel when I mentioned finding local gems and forging local relationships. I had a blast visiting other places in Europe while I was abroad and have many friends whose travel stories are mind-blowing. What I am advocating for is for you to soak it up when you’re out there. This is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity, make sure you leave a different person than when you entered.

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

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Gamification! (of study abroad?)

I like games. A lot. I grew up watching my older brothers play video games and I got in on the action with Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires (we had our own LAN sibling games), Starcraft, and Super Smash Brothers. Nowadays I don’t have a TV, and don’t have a lot of time or money as a student. However, I do have my laptop and the internet; which in my case, translates into playing League of Legends.

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Favorite Role: Support

Rank: Bronze II

Ward Score: 2391

Most played Champs: Leona, Nami, Thresh

If I was a Champion I would be: Annie- small and super cute. (I even named my teddy bear Tibbers)

So, I like games, but I also like study abroad. A lot. Where do games and study abroad intersect?

What is the biggest barrier to students studying abroad?

The most common answer is finances, but some would argue otherwise. Isn’t the biggest barrier to students the overwhelming feeling they get when the first thing people ask is “where do you want to study abroad?” It is paralyzing to students when especially when they have absolutely no idea. There are thousands of program options to choose from, most don’t know how to even start researching programs, let alone have a program chosen already. ProjectTravel is using game design and gamification to make study abroad more accessible to students.

What is gamification?

Gamification is using game elements and game design to solve problems and engage people. The three basic elements of game design are: onboarding, engagement and progression loops, and rewards; and overall gamification makes it impossible for people to fail.

  • Onboarding-Games include guides, feedback, limited options, and limited obstacles. Emilie Game2
  • Engagement & Progression Loops– our brains love challenges and feedback.
  • Rewards-Compared to extrinsic rewards, intrinsic rewards have longer pay-offs.Emilie Game3

 

Overcoming the Overwhelming Feeling

Instead of starting with a question that belongs in level 10, challenger mode, “where do you want to study abroad,” why not start back at level 1, easy mode: tell me a little about yourself, where you’ve traveled, and what you are studying? ProjectTravel takes it a step further, using game design to limit options, making it easy for student to click their answers instead of having to type in responses. Obstacles are also limited, as ProjectTravel only shows certain information and questions to students that must be completed before they can move on to the next level. Below is a sample of what is asked of students in level 1.

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We can see multiple examples of game design: feedback through the status bar, rewards, limited options and obstacles. The expectations and information required from students is very clear and understandable, and limited so that students are not overwhelmed from the beginning. After completing Level 1, students are rewarded with a badge and will gain access to a slightly more difficult level.

The majority of students when asked, say that they are interested in studying abroad. According to the Open Doors Report, only 1% of American students actually study abroad. ProjectTravel argues that students are currently so unaware of study abroad programs that they don’t have the opportunity to make a choice. What is the role of the study abroad office? Is the study abroad office responsible for marketing programs to all interested students? If your answer is yes, then perhaps gamification of the study abroad application process is the new best tool to reach out to this generation of students.

– Emilie, Study Abroad Assistant

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Tiff’s Survival Guide for Jordan

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My adventures abroad in Amman, Jordan was one of the most exciting yet toughest experiences of my life to date. In thinking back on my experience I have compiled a list of tips, must do’s, and keep-away-froms.

1. For shopping, cafes, and just hanging out – Go to Jebel Al-Webdeh. Webdeh is in the old part of Amman, and is a great little hipster neighborhood that can meet all your coffee-sheesha-souq shopping needs. There are delicious falafel stands, amazing places for local music and a really rad youth culture, as well as good shops for doing some tourist shopping (that isn’t overpriced, and don’t sell golden camel statues)

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2. Learn the circle-system quickly! The roads in Amman are distinctly divided up into 7 huge round a bouts that cut diagonally down through the city. You’ll learn that giving directions to a cab driver generally begins with which circle you want to go to. Addresses aren’t totally a thing in Jordan, so you direct your cab driver based off of landmarks. You tell him you want to go near King Abdullah Mosque, then direct him from there. For all your directionally-challenged people like me, don’t worry, you’ll adapt quickly – or get lost a lot.

3. Sidewalks are not for walking – Being a pedestrian can be almost as wild of an adventure as being on the road! Most sidewalks have cars parked on them at some point, dip down and stop in the middle of no where, or have giant trees planted right in the middle to the point that you actually cannot walk on the sidewalk. I tried for maybe a month, and then just resigned myself to walking in the street most of the time.

4. Americans are slobs – by this I mean that the university students in Jordan really have their act together when it comes to fashion. There is certainly no such thing as wearing sweats or a hoodie to class. I wore my Debate Team hoodie and my hair in my staple messy bun one day, and looked homeless in comparison to these girls. The girls are incredibly beautiful, and match their ENTIRE outfits. I wear almost exclusively neutral tones because I am so bad at matching, so I had nothing on these women. They used elaborate colors and patterns to match their hijab to their overcoats to their purses and shoes and fingernails. The guys look equally put together, mostly wearing loafers, button ups and sweaters, and nice jeans. Paying $50 for American Eagle to rip holes in your jeans is definitely not a fashion statement here.

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5. Eat Local! – You will fall in love with the local cuisine, just like studying abroad anywhere really. The falafel, hummus, and shawarma is absolutely unbeatable, and cheap! Eating local foods is significantly cheaper than eating American style food, so help your wallet and eat the local foods. For the absolute best hummus in Jordan, go downtown to Mataam Hashem… You won’t be disappointed.

6. Prices are negotiable – Learn to bargain, or your wallet will suffer from your American-ness. Prices of nearly everything in Jordan can be negotiated. This goes even beyond just taxis or souqs, I knew a group of about ten girls who went all together to get a gym membership and were even able to negotiate that price. Be prepared to haggle in the souqs, and to really hone your skills you can try downtown! It’s not being rude, it’s just part of the culture in many instances!

7. Finally, the Middle East WILL steal your heart. You might not notice it happening, but sooner or later, this region, the people, the sounds, and the sights will make you fall in love. Amman stole my heart my second weekend abroad, when I was lucky enough to attend a BBQ with some local friends who owned an olive tree farm that overlooked the Dead Sea. I sat in a large circle with delicious food, new friends, and could see the lights and the border of Palestine in the distance. I knew right then that the Middle East had gotten me, and I would probably be returning back for the rest of my life.

Tiff Jordan 4– Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

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The Ups and Downs of Service Learning

As a proud Pioneer, our motto: “Private University for the Public Good” is something that has resonated with me since my first quarter on campus. I internalized the idea that we are supposed to train and self-educate at school so we can then go into the world and make it a better place. I’ve always been impressed with how many of our students are involved in philanthropy, the way that our Greek community makes it a priority, and all of the opportunities that DU presents to involve ourselves in our surrounding community.

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However, things get a little sticky when you start taking that motto to the international community. What I mean by that is, I want to ‘help’ and I want to make the world ‘better’. How do I do that without stepping on the culture and identities of others? How can I help, internationally, without living out the negative criticisms of ‘voluntourism’

Last Winter Interterm I spent three weeks in Dharamsala, India, teaching English and computer skills to Tibetan refugee women. I signed up through DU’s International Service Learning programs, and went with a group of 15 DU Undergrad and Graduate students. We were a diverse group of students from all across campus, but all came together to study Tibetan Non-Violence, and to volunteer with a Dharamsala Non-Profit for the month of December.

My trepidation before the trip was whether or not my three weeks would actually matter to these women. I was concerned that I was going on this trip to make myself feel good about helping the world, regardless of whether or not I was actually even helping anyone. I bought into the idea that all of us university students are travelling internationally more for selfish reasons than to be selfless. I began to view my trip as just another exercise of privilege.

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I had a lot of inner turmoil about my choice, and suffered from a bit of self-hate as a voluntourist. However, after coming back from my trip, and after interacting with the community, I learned a few very encouraging things:

  1. Teaching IS helping. Regardless of the fact that I felt 3 weeks was not nearly enough to help anyone, it was three more weeks that those women could be in a classroom with a native English speaker. The Tibetan Women’s Association didn’t have any other teachers during December, so I was actually able to provide them with a tangible service they would have gone without, had I not been there.
  2. Good Intentions can create positive results. Many critics of voluntourism bring up the idiom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I get it. Maybe 18 year old college students with no trade skills aren’t necessarily better at building houses than local trained (but unemployed) carpenters. But… does that mean that we are useless? I don’t think so. I think that the services provided through non-profits often do greatly help communities.
  3. The power of story-sharing. Through interacting with the Tibetan refugee community, so many individuals repeated how cathartic and healing it can be to share their story. In a community facing oppression or expulsion from their home territory, these individuals have felt vindicated by receiving support from the international community. The opportunity to sit and let them tell me their story, no matter how serious or how silly, was enjoyable for me, and seemed immensely valuable to them. They knew that I couldn’t go home and demand political change from President Obama. But we could feel mutually satisfied through connecting with someone across cultures.

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After my experience living in India for 1 short month, I felt rejuvenated that we truly can make a difference, that DU students interacting with the international community can benefit everyone involved, and that I’m still proud as ever to be a Pio that takes my university experience beyond the borders of our campus.

Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

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Maximizing Your Happiness Abroad

I recently read a fascinating article on how to maximize your happiness (You can click here for the article). Essentially, the article reports that scientists have found the quest for happiness comes through experience, rather than material gains. In essence, we are happier when we DO more rather than OWN more.

Now, how does this relate to study abroad?

Max Munich

Visiting Munich, Germany, where my high school friend was studying for the year

Studying and living abroad is an incredible experience by itself, and an investment worth making. Studies have shown that study abroad returnees report having higher confidence, experience better job placement, gained career interest from the experience, and much more (see one of many reports here). So, naturally, my first bit of advice for budgeting is to budget to study abroad, if you haven’t already. I highly doubt you’ll regret the experience.

So now you’re abroad. How do you make sure that your money is going to good use? Naturally, all college students have different budgets. Some can afford to live lavishly, others have to conserve their money very tightly. For those who are watching their purse strings a little more closely, here are a couple pointers that I found that really enriched my study abroad experience.

  1. BILLY MAYS HERE, I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU GET SAVINGS, SAVINGS, SAVINGS!!!

I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help the infomercial joke. But seriously, know your exchange rate before you leave home and how much you can or want to spend. Cost of living could significantly increase or decrease abroad, so save everything you can before you go. I worked 3 part-time jobs the summer before I went abroad to help pay for it. Believe me, you’ll want every penny, and you can always do whatever you “missed out” on when you come home.

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Can you see the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona when you’re in Denver? No, no you can’t.

  1. Plan a list of adventures you would like to do during your time abroad

Anticipating and planning adventures is probably one of the most exciting things on the planet. Seriously, I have published a list of all the things I want to do in my life online (my bucket list), because I have way too much fun with this stuff. Know what you might want to do while you’re living abroad, whether that be backpacking Patagonia, attending a England-New Zealand rugby match at Wembley Stadium in London, going on a SCUBA diving trip along the Great Barrier Reef, walking the Camino de Santiago, or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro (I have friends who did all of these things). They knew they wanted to DO something special while they were abroad, and budgeted accordingly.

I planned to visit a Norwegian friend over Christmas before I left for abroad and got to explore the fjords

I planned to visit a Norwegian friend over Christmas before I left for abroad and got to explore the fjords

  1. Find atypical adventures

What I mean by this is that hopefully, at some point in your life, you’ll have the opportunity to be a tourist. When will you have the opportunity to LIVE abroad and have access to the little-known nooks and crannies of your continent? For me, this meant when I traveled, I wanted to go to atypical places. So, rather than see the Eiffel Tower and taking a picture of my finger touching the top of the Louvre’s pyramid in Paris, *cough* boring and cliché *cough*, I went to Croatia, cliff jumped in the Adriatic Sea, shared a 50cc scooter with my friend and travel buddy, Garret, and visited the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site Plitvice National Park. I DID something out of the ordinary, and it was the best traveling I did abroad.

It actually is that breathtakingly beautiful

Plitvice actually is that breathtakingly beautiful

  1. Have an it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that good things just happen around you. My friends and family call it “Spiro Luck”, because I have the uncanny ability to get a good break when I need it most. Many people refuse to play games with me anymore because of “Spiro Luck”, and perhaps my penchant for excessively celebrating after winning…

Back to my point, one of the things I found when I was abroad was that opportunities presented themselves, so plan for the unexpected. One of the craziest experiences I had while abroad was that I got to attend the Clasico, the biannual soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in Barcelona. I planned to be in the city for the match and to experience the atmosphere, but getting tickets were nigh impossible. That was until a miracle happened. A member of my travel group was accidentally given two tickets instead of one, and I got to go with him for a half-priced, nose-bleed ticket. Without having my it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund, I couldn’t have gone. Being at that game, where the glorious Barcelona won 2-1, was one of the most incredible experiences I had abroad. I still have to pinch myself to remember that it was real. Remember to have a little something to draw on if there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You won’t regret DOING it.

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

  1. Find local adventures that are free, or at least cheap

Some of my best memories from studying abroad are those that didn’t cost me a dime. In my first week in Salamanca, Spain, I joined the local Ultimate Frisbee team, where I met many of my local friends from abroad, and had a fantastic, fun time practicing every Tuesday and Thursday. I played pick-up soccer every weekend and explored the culture of Salamanca. I jammed with a three good friends on the steps of the cathedral in Salamanca and got a crowd of other students to listen. I took the bus into Madrid and spent the day visiting the modern art museum, then walked around the city for hours. I took the train to Toledo for a day, just because I could. While not as eye-popping as the travel stories, they were the ones that truly defined my study abroad experience. What I DID was worth spending money on, unquestionably, and I didn’t need to always break the bank to make a lasting memory.

Goofing around the Royal Palace of Madrid, all for the price of a bus ticket

Goofing around the Royal Palace of Madrid, all for the price of a bus ticket

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assitant

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The Seven Wonders of China!

As determined by student who studied Abroad in China!

1. The Great Wall of China

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The Great Wall of China was built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern boarders of China during the 7th Century BC to protect China from invading enemies. This beautiful structure is now one of the most famous tourist sites in China, and still one of the most breathtaking. After a 45 minute stair climb up the face of a mountain, my friends and I arrived at the most preserved section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and it was breathtaking!

Once on the Wall, you get to explore the watch towers, see the ancient cannons, and experience what it would have been like to be a soldier, watcher on the wall! The Wall itself curves, rises, and falls with the mountain peaks and flows of the land. Made completely of stone, this wall stretches for 5,500 total miles, ending in the sea! The Great Wall of China has been declared as one of the Seven Wonders of World, and its grand beauty earns it a spot on our list!

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2. The Summer Palace, Beijing, China

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The Summer Palace consists of sprawling hills, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. This Palace was created when Emperor Wanyan Liang moved the capital of the Jin Dynasty to Beijing and the lake was built to bring the sea to the emperor.

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On a Sunny day, the lake glistens and the beautiful ancient Chinese structures glow. Each building has its own unique designs that mirror the Jin Dynasty!

My friends and I are convinced that every tourist site in China is meant to give visitors a workout because the Summer Palace also involves some stair and hill climbing, however it is extremely worth it to see these manmade structures that have withstood thousands of years.

3. Mountains of Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China

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China7Located on the Li River, the town of Yangshou is surrounded by mountains, unlike any other in the world. Their unique and odd shapes create a landscape to remember. Each individual peak is its own mountain and they stick out of the ground like razor sharp teeth.

My Friends and I floated the Li River with old school wooden rafts and long bamboo sticks to guide us through the water. The fog that surrounded the mountains made it seem almost surreal and otherworldly.

4. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China

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The Terracotta army are sculptures which depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to protect him in the afterlife as a form of funerary art. The 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses that have been found so far date back to the 3rd century BCE. They are really old! Only 2 out of the four pits have been unearthed and continue to be excavated, so there may be thousands more than have gone undiscovered. This site is almost unbelievable and the soldiers themselves have uncanny resemblance to real human faces. Each soldier has its own unique facial features and hair styles to represent the living soldiers that protected the emperor in life.

China95. The Bund, Shanghai, China

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The Bund is a waterfront area in central Shanghai that houses some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the world. My friends and I took a boat tour on the river to see both sides of the bund at night and the colors are stunning! Gotta love that neon!

These building are on an island that is accessible by a tunnel that goes under the ocean or a bridge. Some of the most famous skyscrapers include ‘The Pearl.” In this picture you can see the tallest building in the world, set to be finished in Fall 2015.

The picture below is the view from the 100th floor of the Financial Tower, the current tallest building in the world, until the tower next to it is finished anyway. It is insane realize our ability to build so high!

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6. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China

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Quite literally, the clearest, bluest, and most beautiful lake I have ever seen rests at the foot of this small mountain range. Located in the Southern Province of Yunnan, the Dragon Snow Mountain is full of glacier peaks and valley grasslands.

With built in walkways and trees to hang your wishes in, this area is one you must see to believe and the lakes, pictured above and below are so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom both in crystal clear blue and a copper green, they are unlike anything else!

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7. ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China

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Recognize these mountains? It is very likely that you do because this National Forest was the filming site for the Hallelujah Floating Mountains in the Blockbuster film, “Avatar.” These mountains are what inspired the world of Pandora for James Cameron, the Director of the movie, and they look like they came straight out of a science fiction movie.

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With mountain formations unlike any other in the world that were formed solely by water erosion over millions of years, these mountains top the list of 7 Wonders of China, as seen by a student who studied abroad there. Now go and Explore!

-Nicole Paulsen, Study Abroad Assistant

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